HUVR Hero: Shankar Nadarajah, ExxonMobil

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Posted on April 20

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HUVR Hero: Shankar Nadarajah
“Be bold, be adaptable, be open to change.”

A HUVR Hero is someone who aids their company or industry by making significant progress in the design, implementation or use of digital inspections. These individuals are champions of digital transformation and the HUVR platform.

Shankar Nadarajah, Global Drone Inspection Lead, Materials Integrity & Inspection, ExxonMobil, could see the potential in drones and other robotics to radically increase the efficiency, effectiveness and safety of asset inspections. However, this wasn’t a huge change in methodology, but rather an expansion of existing techniques that drove new outcomes, enhanced by new tools. Shankar said, “The process of industrial asset inspection hasn’t fundamentally changed recently … We still have an obligation to ensure our operations are running reliably so we can produce high-quality product for our customers.” 

In practice, with individual inspections, drones were generating massive amounts of data.  Workflows varied across the company, depending on who was conducting the inspections. What was missing was a cohesive, consistent, easy-to-use inspection data aggregation platform that could be scaled across ExxonMobil. Shankar engaged with HUVR to solve this problem–to realize the full potential of drones, robotics and other inspection tools. “We fundamentally needed to understand how we were going to use drones to actually extract value,” said Shankar. “Just using drones by themselves was not going to do it. We needed a supporting infrastructure. Now the work is being done to transform the company.”

The GAVIS program (Global Aerial Visual Inspection Service) was built to do just that–a self-contained service offering, powered by HUVR, that sites could call on to arrange drone inspections and aggregate all of the data in a standardized format that works seamlessly with ExxonMobil backend systems.

Shankar started with a basic premise: If drones and robotics do one thing very well, it’s generate large amounts of data–like hi-res images or sizable video files. “The tsunami of data is growing and growing, but we have to use it to make conclusions,” said Shankar. Even hand-held tools generate digital measurements which must be managed. While this makes finding deviations easier than ever before, the actual work of managing the files could be difficult for a number of reasons. “We want to take full advantage of the data we are producing and extract more insights from that data.”

Shankar repeatedly heard from colleagues that moving large amounts of data from one system to another is challenging. Imperfect file-sharing systems often auto-delete files after a certain time. Video data was so large that it sometimes had to be cut apart and stitched back together before it could be used or recalled. And in the event of a long series of images, naming them was a tedious chore. “HUVR makes the job of inspector more interesting by minimizing administrative work and shifting more time to more meaningful tasks.”

Also, information came to inspectors from many different sources: internal teams, external teams, multiple kinds of tools using multiple kinds of data formats. The choice was to force standardization of inspection tools–which was practically guaranteed to make no one happy–or find a way to standardize the format after the fact. Shankar chose the latter. 

Once collected, that data had to be searchable for later retrieval and then easily usable. Data locked in an external drive somewhere was not searchable, and even if it was turned in as a PDF report it was not easily usable. Without strict standardization, reports were often very different and hard to locate, meaning the information within was as well. “You [have to] find what you need to find.”

As Shankar began the work of scaling a standardized drone program across ExxonMobil, he noticed a set of commonalities for each site that took up the program.  The first task was to get executive buy-in. The idea was not to force change, but to provide resources for teams as they managed the transition. The buy-in led to a top-down commitment to adoption, which eased the way for the next step.

Each site also has a distinct set of issues to overcome. Shankar found the best way to identify those issues and solve them was to talk to the stakeholders at the sites. As much as a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution is desirable in the abstract, the reality is each site has such a variety of business, geographic and personnel situations–solutions had to be created specifically to address each. 

All in all, because of the hands-on, personalized leadership required to be successful in implementing the GAVIS program, Shankar said that implementing change is “a contact sport.” The program has expanded to include inspections on land, sea as well as in the air. What began as a drone program has grown to encompass all kinds of tools, including robots and handheld devices. 

By partnering with HUVR, Shankar was able to give each site the solution it required. Common checklists created by ExxonMobil teams provided standardization, and HUVR’s configurable inspection data system was able to interface with numerous systems, solving the larger file transfer and standardization issues. “The kinds of steps we’re taking to minimize administrative work helps inspire people to be more creative and innovative,” said Shankar.

Much of this success at enabling his internal customers stems from Shankar’s background, which is IT and not inspecting. “I come from a totally different perspective than a field inspector, so when I look at that role I often ask ‘Why do we do it this way? Why isn’t there a better way?’” The outside-in view led to the ability to help one of the world’s largest companies change a critical process. “Be open to change–you should always be looking for ways to disrupt your core space and embrace it.”

As of April, 2023, over the programs life it has been deployed globally and saved millions of dollars.

Shankar is a HUVR Hero because he saw a huge opportunity that was being blocked by jumble of tools and file types and he envisioned a system with top-down conformity in regard to inspection checklists but enough configurability to ensure that sites loved the change. “The HUVR platform is intuitive and easy to use. You don’t need a lot of training.” He walked the tightrope of digital transformation and moved cleanly across the wire.

GAVIS is rapidly becoming a household name at ExxonMobil. It provides the necessary support to fully leverage digital tools and realize their full value, across multiple inspection types on land, sea and air, using robots or humans to conduct the inspections. All of this was accomplished because Shankar let the processes and needs of his colleagues guide his actions to tremendous savings and efficiency.

Shankar’s viewpoint cannot be divorced from the success of digitizing the inspection process. His North Star is a willingness to move away from the familiar. “Be bold. Have a passion and interest to work outside your comfort zone. Your learning curve will increase exponentially, which takes patience and commitment, but it will help you build confidence … Be adaptable … Be open to change.”

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